Nowadays, you can't throw a rock in a computer store without hitting an inexpensive flatbed scanner or digital camera. If you've been throwing such rocks and are new to digital imaging, Kai's Photo Soap 2 might be just what you need in order to perform simple edits and color corrections and to get your images printed or posted on the Web. A vast improvement over Soap 1, version 2 includes new retouching and painting features and powerful Web-site-creation tools. But although the program's interface is much improved, it is still needlessly obtuse and difficult to use.
Although Soap 2 is targeted at less experienced users, you need a beefy Mac to comfortably use it. The normal installation eats up 120MB of storage, and the program's graphics-heavy interface demands at least a fast 603e CPU.
Soap 2 has abandoned its predecessor's "rooms" metaphor in favor of a tabbed interface that lets you freely move among the cataloging, retouching, compositing, and printing facilities. Dropping the old modal approach is a great improvement, in that you're no longer confined to a particular workflow.
Unfortunately, Soap 2's interface improvements don't go far enough. The interface is aesthetically pleasing and sports some clever graphics, but like other MetaCreations programs that include the "Kai" moniker (see Kai's Power Tools 5 ), elsewhere in this section), Soap is nonintuitive and difficult to use. For example, the program has separate Input and Output menus rather than a single File menu; at the very least, Soap needs some standard conventions in its menu system. Tool labels or context-sensitive help would also be nice. The manual is a necessity, but it's available only in the form of PDF files.
When you launch Soap, it presents the Organizer page, which lets you browse and arrange image thumbnails. You can import pictures from folders or directly from a scanner or digital camera.
Soap 2 lets you add searchable keywords to images, making it easy to sort and arrange files. However, we'd prefer searches that simply selected found images instead of changing their position on the desktop. We'd also like to see a flipping command and additional rotating options; currently you can rotate only 90 degrees clockwise. But the versatility and impressive speed of the Organizer make it a good tool for cataloging images.
The Organizer's most noteworthy feature is HTML export. After you've arranged your images, you can choose Export to HTML to automatically create a Web page that looks exactly like the Soap desktop.
Folks viewing the page can rearrange the thumbnails or double-click on them to see a full-size image. The pages are small and fast, but we experienced compatibility problems with older browsers.
Soap's image-editing tools, scattered across several rooms in the initial release, are now all in one place. From the Soap 2 Clean page, you can adjust colors and paint on, clone, or retouch images. Soap 2's color-correction tools are powerful and easy to use, thanks to a "graphic equalizer"-style interface. Corrections can be applied to an entire image or brushed in selectively with a range of brush and eraser tools.
New to version 2 is the ability to use Adobe Photoshop-compatible filters. Like other effects, Photoshop filters can be brushed on, something you can't do in any other program. This is a feature we'd love to see in Photoshop itself.
Performance on the Clean page is a bit slow, because the computer reloads a copy of the image each time you add an effect. Although we were comfortable running the program on a Power Mac G3, a slower computer might not fare as well.
Soap 2 includes a compositing facility that lets you bring in multiple images to create collages. You can rotate and reposition images and adjust opacity uniformly, or selectively with brushes. Unfortunately, Soap 2 provides no transfer modes between layers.
Once you've retouched your image, you can prepare it for printing in the Output section, which is Soap's greatest strength. In addition to printing individual images, you can choose from a robust collection of album templates to package your pictures and captions. Although this sort of thing is often cheesy, Soap's albums and frames are well designed and attractive; even the most jaded graphics-head will be impressed.
Unfortunately, Soap's captioning tools are a bit of a disaster. Offering only three type sizes is bad enough, but the program's text tool doesn't automatically wrap words within a frame, forcing you to manually figure out where to place carriage returns to fit the text.
Once you've set up your album, you can print it out or export it as a Web site.
Users who want a quick and easy way of creating impressive print or Web presentations of their photos will be well served by Soap 2. However, although there is power in Soap's retouching tools, the interface continues to make them toodifficult to use. We're pleased with the changes from version 1; hopefully version 3 will show equal improvement.
RATING: PROS: Great HTML export; can brush on Photoshop filters; speedy image cataloging. CONS: Interface too difficult; slow when switching tools, zooming, or applying effects; disk hog. COMPANY: MetaCreations (805/566-6200, http://www.metacreations.com ). LIST PRICE: $49.
May 1999 page: 43